Senators, Penguins surge into playoffs at the last

Los Angeles (AFP) - Jamie Benn's brilliance was on full display, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators clinched playoff berths and the Boston Bruins kissed their chances goodbye on a thrilling last day of the regular NHL season.

All 30 teams were in action Saturday -- which was a good thing for the Senators, who completed an improbable comeback to reach the playoffs, and for Dallas Stars' Benn, who exploded for four points to claim the Art Ross Trophy as the league's top scorer with 87.

Ottawa's rookie tandem of forward Mark Stone and goaltender Andrew Hammond helped the Senators to claim a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Stone scored twice and Hammond made 34 saves as Ottawa defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1.

On February 10, Ottawa was one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference, 14 points back in the playoff race. But since then, the Senators have gone 23-4-4 to secure their place in the postseason.

Over that stretch, undrafted rookie Hammond has earned the nickname "Hamburglar" because of his stingy 1.76 goals against average. He and Stone have both played large roles in the Senators' surge with Hammond winning 20 of 23 games since being called up from the American Hockey League.

"I have never had a stretch of hockey like this in my life," the 27-year-old Hammond said. "It is something I don't think anyone can really explain."

- Hands of Stone -

Stone scored a pair of goals to tie Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau for the rookie scoring lead, and the Senators finished the regular season with a 43-26-13 record.

Ottawa will be on the road against the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs, helping create a distinct Canadian flavor to the postseason this year. There are five teams from the great white north opening their Stanley Cup bids next week.

It was also down to the wire for Sidney Crosby's Penguins as they reached the playoffs with a 2-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 28 shots for his 10th shutout of the year and Brandon Sutter scored both goals for the Penguins, who saw a comfortable place in the standings at midseason spiral out of control to the point where a loss could have kept them from the playoffs.

Anders Lindback made 36 saves for the Sabres, who had already clinched last place in the league with a loss on Friday.

Benn collected three goals and an assist to take the NHL's scoring title as Dallas defeated Nashville 4-1.

Benn's second career hat-trick vaulted him past Crosby (84) and Islanders centre John Tavares (86) for the Art Ross. He becomes the first player in franchise history to finish as the league's top point producer.

"It is bitter sweet because we didn't make the playoffs," said Benn.

The New York Rangers set single-season franchise records for most wins and points after beating the Washington Capitals 4-2.

Henrik Lundqvist's 22 saves helped the Rangers (53-22-7) finish the season with 113 points.

That broke the old record of 112 set by the 1993-94 team, which also finished with 53 wins en route to a Stanley Cup title.

The Rangers and Capitals are headed to the playoffs, and New York will open at home against Pittsburgh. The Capitals will face the New York Islanders in the first round.

Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin and Stanislav Galiev scored for the Capitals.

- Bye-bye Bruins -

In Tampa, Florida, Victor Hedman had the lone goal of the shootout to send Tampa Bay to a 3-2 win over Boston, eliminating the Bruins from playoff contention.

The Winnipeg Jets celebrated their best season since relocating back to Manitoba in 2011 with a 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames.

Winnipeg earned a franchise-best 99 points with a 43-26-13 record and will take on the top-seeded Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings missed the playoffs to ensure there will be a new winner this year.

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